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Rescue team practices tactics

It’s all about speed for the Peoria County Underwater Rescue Team, which practiced ice rescues Sunday morning.

“Someone who goes through this water would only last a couple of minutes,” said rescue diver Tim Sommer, standing on top a layer of ice on the Bedwell Lake. “To me, if you go through this water, it feels like you are getting burnt.”

The 14-member volunteer team trains once a month and responds to water-related incidents throughout Peoria County. Taking advantage of the freezing weather, the team sawed a 7-foot triangle in the ice and practiced a variety of rescue scenarios on the lake near the Farmington Sportsman’s Club.

While simulating incidents where people may have fallen through the ice, three rescuers in blue dry suits stood on the dock gripping two water-proof yellow ropes. Connected to the other end of the ropes were two rescue divers taking on the role as rescuer and victim.

“This spot, they may have been fishing on that side of lake,” said Sommer, while yanking on the rope and dragging the two team members out of the hole and across the ice.

There are many reasons why these men willingly jump into 35-degree water. For rescue diver Chris Lingenfelter, he enjoys the team unity and helping others.

“If someone breaks through the ice, we know exactly what to do,” he said.

Some members on the team have been plunging their bodies in the cold for more than a decade.

Sommer, 50, has been a member of the team for 30 years, and has responded to more than 80 water rescues. On average, two incidents occur each year. Like most of the men on the team, Sommer is both an emergency medical technician and a firefighter.

“You take out of this world what you put in,” he said. “If I was lost up in a mountain, I would want someone to come get me.”

After the ice rescue exercises were complete, the team moved on to “ice dives.”

“Now we do the fun stuff and go underwater” said 13-year team veteran Ed Feldsha of East Peoria. Joining him was Jeremy Galloway of Elmwood, who has been diving for 10 years.

Wearing about 80 pounds of equipment, including oxygen masks, both men submerged underwater and didn’t return to the surface for 20 to 25 minutes. All team members took a turn.

“We will be taking a hot shower later,” said Feldshau.

By STEPHANIE GOMES
of the Journal Star

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